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The Garden Decoder: What Is a ‘Potager’?


The Garden Decoder: What Is a ‘Potager’?

May 30, 2022

Is it possible to create a garden that incorporates attractive edibles, bursts with blooms, attracts pollinators and wildlife, plus is easy to maintain? Answer: Yes. How? A potager. To better understand the ins and outs of this French garden style, I’ve asked expert Jennifer Bartley, owner of the design firm American Potager, and author of Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook, for some guidance.

What exactly is a ‘potager’?

Photograph by Jennifer Bartley.
Above: Photograph by Jennifer Bartley.

Potager (pronounced: poe-ta-jay) is French for kitchen garden. The word literally means “for the soup pot.” “It’s a seasonal garden where fruits, herbs, greens, and vegetables are grown in a beautiful way,” says Jennifer. Well, who wouldn’t want that? And, according to Jennifer, “The French always understood the connection between what was growing in the garden and what was served at the table.” Historically, the French jardin potager was always accessible to the chateau, and the owner could view the garden from the kitchen window. In England during the English landscape movement, estate owners, in contrast, didn’t want to see messy working kitchen gardens so they were hidden. Today’s potager can take on many variations and designs with no hard fast rules.

What are the elements of a potager?

Above: A potager should be near the house for easy access. Photograph by Andrea Filippone, from The Garden Designer Is In: A Deer-Proof Edible Garden, East Coast Edition.

“I think most often people create a row of raised beds and call that a potager,” says Jennifer. “These gardens historically were paradise gardens, they were an oasis.” For a truly successful potager that feels like the gardens of old, here are Jennifer’s guidelines:

  1. Be a destination in itself. A place on your property where you arrive, shut the gate, and leave your troubles behind.
  2. Have some sort of enclosure whether it’s a wall, a fence or a strategically placed flowering shrub.
  3. Plant the potager near the kitchen or entrance to the house. In a prominent place to be seen and enjoyed daily.
  4. Plant as if you were creating a painting with edibles.

Any benefits of a potager?

Above: Expert mingling of blooms and edibles, courtesy of Sarah Raven. Photograph by Jonathan Buckley, from Ask The Expert: Sarah Raven’s 10 Tips for a Kitchen Garden.

Besides the obvious rewards of creating a haven of biodiversity, plus the ability to harvest stellar flowers and tasty edibles, Jennifer adds, “We’re creating a garden that feeds the soul as well as the stomach. A place we love to be in.” The key to remember when creating your own potager is to nurture the relationship between nature, your garden, and your kitchen table.

For more on vegetable gardens, see:

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